KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt hasn't had a winning season in 16 years, but the Commodores have taken some solace in holding Tennessee to its lowest point total each of the last three years.
The No. 1 Volunteers (10-0, 7-0) would like to end that trend Saturday in the regular-season finale against the Commodores (2-8, 1-6), especially considering that the Bowl Championship Series ratings take margin of victory into consideration.
Tennessee has scored 12, 14 and 17 points against Vandy since Woody Widenhofer began coaching the Commodore defense.
Widenhofer is still there, but his defense has not been as good this year. The Commodores led the Southeastern Conference in total defense last year, allowing 275 yards a game, and held Tennessee to 339. This year, Vandy is last in the league, allowing 442 yards a game.
Widenhofer is undaunted.
"Our players have a lot of pride. They're smart guys who understand we've played Tennessee three years in a row very close, and it could really make their season," he said.
The Vols insist the past is not prologue, at least in this case.
"We're not really thinking about how many points we scored the last three years," said quarterback Tee Martin. "This is a totally different team. We've been playing differently all year, we've been coached differently, we have a different philosophy."
The Vols also have a lot on the line. They're battling for a spot in the national championship game and can't afford to lose.
"It makes it easier for us to practice hard during the week," Martin said. "If you practice hard all week you can't lose it on game day. A lot of teams think you're supposed to turn on a light bulb on game day, but if you haven't practiced that way you won't be able to play that way."
Vols coach Phillip Fulmer says he has discussed the BCS situation with his team.
"The margin of victory thing is in there. You can't run that risk," Fulmer said. "We talked first about the significance of winning and of being undefeated, but, yeah, we did talk about that."
Tennessee cornerback Steve Johnson said the circumstances make these late-season practices much easier to deal with.
"There's a lot more out there for us than there's been in the past," he said. "Our ultimate goal is the national championship game. I don't want to get too far ahead, but we've got a lot to play for. Knowing that makes it easier to put on our practice clothes and go out there."
Martin said the Vols offense may be better suited to deal with Widenhofer's pressing, blitzing defensive package than it has been.
"With the type of offense we have now I don't think it will affect us as much," he said. "We'll still try to execute what we've been practicing on the last few games."
Tennessee has won the last 15 games in the series. The two games before Widenhofer got to Nashville were blowouts (62-14 and 65-0).
"They've done particularly well taking us out of the flow of our offense," Fulmer said. "Last year was a little different because we stopped ourselves with three turnovers. Otherwise that game's maybe not particularly close.
"But if we take care of the football and do our thing running, make some plays in the passing game, I think we'll be fine."
Game time is 3:30 p.m. EST.
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